5 reasons why the Android phone isn't game-changing

An impressive open-source base phone, but won't become game-changing until another carrier starts to support the device

T-Mobile, HTC and Google launched the "world's first Android-powered mobile phone" Tuesday and proudly announced that this phone was going to be "game-changing". But after reading details on the phone, the service and some of the new applications, I'm left wondering where the game is actually changing.

The G1 phone itself seems interesting, if only for the fact that it looks and acts much like Apple's iPhone – including a touch-screen interface, HTML browser, and access to a high-speed network (T-Mobile's HSPA network, which at the moment can only be accessed in 16 markets in the US, and won't reach 27 markets until mid-November). Integrated Wi-Fi allows for faster network connectivity, which should make for a good experience for the rest of the planet not served by the T-Mobile network (the company says it will work in "2G" locations, but acknowledged the best experience will be on Wi-Fi and the 3G network). The phone will launch on October 22 for US$179 (with two-year voice and data agreement). A voice plan is required, and data plans are either US$25 per month (with usage limits) or US$35 per month for an unlimited plan).

I'm still digesting some of the features in the announcement, but here's a quick list of reasons why I'm somewhat underwhelmed:

1) Customers are still locked to T-Mobile as their carrier. Unless I'm mistaken, the whole point of the Android operating system and this open mobile movement was so consumers could buy a phone, and any application, and run them on any network. T-Mobile said it would be locking the SIM card for the G1 to the T-Mobile network, so if you want to use the G1, you have to use it on their network. Will the carrier face the same sort of unlocking battle that Apple has faced with its iPhone? Probably, but it is unlikely to face as much scrutiny.

2) No Exchange support – sorry, enterprises. I'm not sure whether this was ever going to be an enterprise-based phone anyway (there's still a LOT of doubters about open-source applications), but the lack of Microsoft Exchange support for the e-mail client would be the deal-breaker anyway. T-Mobile said Exchange could be integrated through third-party applications, but I don't think that excites any enterprise IT manager.

3) Speaking of enterprises and what they probably won't like, the G1 includes a 3-megapixel digital camera on the device, and it's unlikely that the camera could be disabled by companies that don't want digital cameras in their workplaces. It also doesn't appear to have any other enterprise features, such as VPN access, security protection, etc.

4) The "Android Market" – who's vetting these applications? The big selling point for the Android open operating development is that developers will be able to build and market applications without being in a "closed environment" – an apparent shot at Apple, which requires developers to go through an approval process before being placed onto their App Store. It's unclear about who's running the Android Market – Google? T-Mobile? – and how applications created for the device will be placed and promoted within the marketplace. It seems like someone has to make a decision, even if it's just deciding how to organize the applications.

5) Not much access to the high-speed data network. While it's admirable that T-Mobile is committed to the 27 markets for HSPA by mid-November, it's pretty likely that most G1 users will only experience the faster speeds if they are in a large metropolitan area (or connected to Wi-Fi).

While I'm impressed that Google, HTC and T-Mobile were able to team up to provide a "Google Phone" that has an open-source base, this really won't become interesting until another carrier starts to support the devices, as well as the ability for consumers to buy a device, and then use it on any carrier's network. Until then, I'm calling the G1 "The iPhone clone on T-Mobile" (just like the Instinct is the "iPhone clone on Sprint", the Voyager is "the iPhone clone on Verizon", etc.).

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Keith Shaw

Keith Shaw

Network World
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